The Third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete Sunday, signals our “joy” as we begin the final stretch of our journey toward Christmas. It’s similar to the good feeling we might get returning from a long road trip, when we pass the halfway point and our eager anticipation of arriving home grows with each passing signpost.
At our parish church and in our homes, we light the rose-colored candle alongside the two darker violet or blue candles to indicate a momentary “lightening” of our penitential preparations as we rejoice that our redemption is near.
Just as the people of God once awaited the coming of their Redeemer and Messiah, we anxiously await his return in glory so that his redemption, his victory over sin and death, might be completed, so that we might enter the heavenly glory he promised to us if we remain faithful to the end.
One tradition by which the Church has expressed this longing for redemption is through the “O Antiphons.” These prayers, taken from the prophecies of Isaiah, consist of seven titles and petitions for the coming Messiah. They have been used in prayer as far back as the fifth century and in particular as monastic prayers during the final days of Advent since the eighth century.
Today, the “O Antiphons” remain in the Liturgy of the Hours, or Breviary, the daily prayer of the Church, where they are prayed for vespers, or evening prayer, during the first seven days of the Octave Before Christmas, December 17 to 23. Each day, a different antiphon is recited or chanted antiphonally in conjunction with the Magnificat, or Canticle of Mary.
The seven messianic titles – “O Wisdom,” “O Lord,” “O Root of Jesse,” “O Key of David,” “O Radiant Dawn,” “O King of the Nations,” and “O Emmanuel” – begin each antiphon. Interestingly, scholars speculate there is a hidden message here left by the Benedictine monks who arranged these antiphons in their present form: the first letter of the Latin rendering of these titles, taken in reverse order, spells ero cras, which loosely translated means “Tomorrow, I will come” – a reiteration of Christ’s promise.
Here, then, are the O Antiphons of Advent:
O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!
O Lord of the House of Israel,
giver of the Law to Moses on Sinai:
come to rescue us with your mighty power!
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!
O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the
shadow of death.
O King of all Nations and keystone of the Church:
come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!
If these verses sound a bit like the popular Advent carol “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” it’s because that hymn is based on the “O Antiphons” as well.
This rich traditional Catholic treasure is not just for monks and nuns, but for the entire Church. So consider gathering your loved ones around the Advent wreath each day, perhaps around dinnertime or bedtime, to pray these “O Antiphons” together during the week leading up to Christmas Eve. They might just become your own treasured family tradition as well.
About the Author
Gerald Korson, a veteran Catholic journalist, is a member of the Knights of Columbus in Indiana.
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